Filmmaker Woody Allen once quipped that he was too short to make his school’s chess team. He would feel right at home in Ms. Maver’s class, where the kids are learning chess, and they’re all short. That’s because they’re in the third grade.
“The chess lessons happen once a week in all our second and third grade classes,” said Angela Fulton, principal of Discovery Elementary School in Sunrise.
Chess is now part of the curriculum for all Broward County schools like Discovery, where students are catching on quick.
They are learning the basics of how to move their pawns, knights, bishops and rooks to attack their opponents and to protect their kings.
“You have to think about the moves you’re going to make and what you’re going to do and what the other player’s going to do,” said Evan Matherly, who is currently his school’s chess champ.
Besides the once-a-week chess lesson, the kids also have time to play one another and practice the moves they’re learning.
“What should I do on my next move? You can imagine that a captured piece, you’re dragging them off a battlefield,” said student Lauren Amitirigala.
When kids learn this ancient game of war strategy, they learn how to use foresight, they learn critical thinking, they learn patience and the art of deliberating before making a decision. All of those qualities help them academically as well.
“Actually, there are so many benefits that I can’t name them all, but one of the great benefits is seeing the joy our students have in learning how to play chess, and not even realizing that they’re taking all the skills and being able to implement it in reading, math, science, and also social studies,” Fulton said.
The students have their own reasons for enjoying the game.
“I like chess because it’s fun, it brings me closer to my family and when I go against my brother I can easily win,” Amitirigala said.
They take no prisoners in Ms. Maver’s class.
“Actually I would never challenge any of my students in chess, they’re really doing a great job, I’m so proud of how quickly they’re able to learn and master the game,” Fulton said.
So is the principal afraid to get beaten by a third grader?
“Absolutely, and I’m not ashamed to say it!” Fulton said.
The best part? FCAT scores jumped 18 percent last year after chess was introduced at Discovery Elementary. Checkmate.